The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 69.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Election, Perception, Machination

Dan Dunn

How is it that the Undergraduate Association has taken a perfectly good election system and driven it to its knees? Is it incompetence, or some malicious force within the UA?

The UA has not been a powerful force for several years. It used to be respected. It used to be a force to be considered when a decision was made, a group to be consulted before the final report was released. The leaders of the UA used to be perceived as leaders on campus. They had name recognition and were the first to speak for the students when a representative was needed.

There are two major elements to the UA's respectability. The first is that the group must be a visibly effective body. They have failed in that regard for quite a while. The second element is that students must have faith that their representatives were fairly elected. This recent election has shaken that faith to the core. It was not a single choice that did the damage, but a series of events.

The first flawed decision was to allow Floor Leader Paul T. Oppold '99 and Jennifer A. Kelly '99 on the ballot in the first place. They did not have the required 440 signatures to be placed on the ballot by the deadline. Oppold had collected enough signatures, but as part of a different team. The Election Commission, crazily enough, put Oppold and Kelly on the ballot anyway. The Election Commissioner, Seth Bisen-Hersh '01 was quoted as saying he "didn't want to penalize Oppold." Why not? Wasn't it Oppold's lack of signatures, Oppold's responsibility, that was the problem? Why was Bisen-Hersh protecting Oppold from his own mistakes?

The Election Commission is going to make mistakes, maybe not every year, but often enough. For this reason, and others, the UA created the Judicial Board. But this year's administration, and the previous one, decided that the Judicial Board represented an obstacle to progress. Don't ask me why they didn't like it; I haven't asked and I don't much care. But then they did something that was even more dangerous than legislating the group out of existence: they left the board empty.

So, the opponents of Oppold and Kelly were unhappy with the Election Commission. They checked the Constitution, and lo and behold, there was a Judicial Board to solve all of the problems. But because of the irresponsible and destructive behavior of the administration, it was empty. And conveniently, the Judicial Board is nominated by the UA President, Dedric A. Carter '98. And who are these opponents of Oppold? They are led by none other than Sandra C. Sandoval 00, Dedric Carter's running mate of last year.

How can an impartial Judicial Board be chosen? The vice president is running for president, as is the floor leader. The president makes the nominations. Can you tell me that the political leanings of the board were not a litmus test for their nomination? And when you study the membership of the five-person board, you find that two of the members are from Carter's living group, and a third is from where Sandoval lived last year.

Even if Carter claims that this Judicial Board is unbiased, the perception is there. This perception is just as important as the reality. The perception held by the public is what gives the UA legitimacy. By creating this Judicial Board, Carter created a huge problem of image, and therefore a problem of legitimacy.

The Judicial Board has the authority to know the results of the election that was just run. Did they see them? I don't know, but I suspect they did. And with those results in hand, they ruled the election invalid, using logic that is charitably described as questionable. Did they see that Oppold had won the first time? Did they seize an excuse to give their candidate, Sandoval, another chance? I can only speculate.

Where does this does leave us? Where does this leave the UA? We are all trapped in a bog of distrust and impotence. At this point, there is only one team I can trust. They aren't even on the ballot; I know they don't have cronies bending the rules. When this farce of an election reconvenes, I will be voting for Roger S. Cortesi '99 and Pat G. Moloney '99.